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The Concentration Game: Lourdes World Cup Finals 2016

One man’s pain....

On a day that will go down in history for one reason or another, one man’s pain became others’ gain.

Words: James McKnight      Photos: Seb Schieck and the odd one or two by Ben Winder!

Loic Bruni was on a rampage all week in Lourdes – tearing the track to pieces and riding with more confidence and determination than he has perhaps ever displayed. Unfortunately neither that nor his 2.3 second advantage at the final split meant that the race was his.

Poor old Remi Thirion (and many others). Quiet and polite off the bike, an absolute menace on it. Unfortunately, he spent the entire of Saturday off as he nursed a sprained wrist from Friday. Race day was pretty much a write-off.

Juniors

What an up and down category Juniors is. Packed with brilliant talents still finding their feet and getting into a World Cup rhythm, the results can vary wildly from race to race, run to run.

 

Poor old (young) Kevin Marry had a stormer in qualifying and went 1-1-1 at the first three splits in finals. Unfortunately it wasn’t a day for the French – Marry went down hard, dislocating his shoulder.

To be fair to the future stars, they had the most savage race conditions of everyone, as the sun still hadn’t risen high enough to dry the very damp and greasy lower woods for their race runs, things were wildly hit-or-miss. One wrong move and you’re off.

Early morning grease remained on course for Junior finals, making things pretty treacherous for those pushing for a win. But things dried up as the day went on and thankfully the threatening rain clouds above didn’t affect anyone’s results. Finn Iles is finally old enough to compete in the series… the first year Junior put his stamp on the category here in Lourdes… he didn’t disappoint.

The only constant in the Junior top three was that of the UK’s Matt Walker – the Madison/Saracen rider was looking flat out all week and retained his second place from seeding to step onto his first World Cup podium. Nikolas Nestoroff was on the pace just a couple of seconds back in third, with Gaetan Vige and Jackson Frew closing the top five.

The waiting game… Junior hotseat.

It’s good to see Specialized/SRAM’s first year Junior Finn Iles finally in the results after his 2015 as course opener (before he was old enough to race), and the team’s confidence in the Canadian has most certainly paid off. Iles was on it and seriously impressive to watch from run one in Lourdes and, after a bobble in qualifying, he kept it upright to take a well-earned win on race day.

Good on you Matt Walker. First ever World Cup and he almost won the bloody thing. Second place and a bag full of confidence.
Finn Iles is definitely going to be the one to beat this year in the junior race… but don’t forget that Matt Walker was only 1.5 sec back.

The final word should go to France’s Kevin Marry though. First in qualifying, first at every split until he crashed hard and dislocated his shoulder. An unfortunate ending to a race that brought Marry to the world’s attention. He will be back and we wish him the best for his recovery.

Full Junior results here.

Manon Carpenter looked quietly happy with her third place in finals. The Brits are on fire!

Women

After qualifying in first place with a crash, Tahnee Seagrave must have been on a confidence high. The Transition rider is unbelievably talented and, as with Bruni, it is only a matter of time before she starts to win these things.

Seagrave is getting closer, but Rachel Atherton is going to be hard to beat this year.

Seagrave’s first big win at Lourdes 2016 wasn’t to be though, as Trek’s latest figurehead Rachel Atherton put in a trademark perfect run to demolish the competition by four seconds. Tahnée settled for second place – still her best result ever, so she will have a lot to take away from this race.

Tahnee Seagrave certainly wasn’t disappointed with second place here. Her best World Cup result ever, plus she made a statement that she is more than capable of beating Atherton. It’s taken Seagrave a couple of seasons but it looks like 2016 might be her time to flourish in the World Cup results.

Manon Carpenter settled for third place to make it a British 1-2-3 with Tracey Hannah coming back from mechanical woes in her qualifier (broken chain before the start line..) to take fourth and Emelie Siegenthaler rounding out the top five.

Where is the rest of the world!? The Brits are currently dominating women’s downhill racing.

Rachel Atherton looking pretty ‘stoked’ with her new leader’s jersey!

Women’s results here.

Peaty: Second fastest through the speed trap… not bad. How the hell does he do it?

Men

The men’s race heard the biggest cheers and loudest silence I have ever witnessed at a mountain bike race.

Brendan Fairclough is one cool character. Playful and smooth as ever even in his race run, the Scott rider was happy with his 10th place.
Connor Fearon is a pinner. A top 10 for the Kona rider and a solid start to his season.
Not the best day in the office for Gee Atherton, but not a disaster either. Seventh place, five seconds back.
The Pierron brothers are something else. The world better be ready for the trio of Antoine, Baptiste and Amaury. The latter finally broke onto the podium here in Lourdes – the saving grace of Loic Bruni’s crash according to the World Champion himself.
Danny Hart dropping in to third… a great result.
Josh Bryceland was finding grip where there really shouldn’t have been any in Sunday’s practice - it was a display of riding skill like no other. But as things dried out Ratboy lost a bit of the pace of the top dogs Bruni and Gwin, finishing four seconds back from the winner, in sixth.
Bryceland… let the good times roll.
Troy Brosnan is on form and looked very happy to be standing on the first podium of the World Cup season. He will be looking to get really revving for his home nation race at Round 2 in Cairns in two weeks.
Steve Smith has been marred by injuries in the last few years, but it was clear from his confident riding throughout the week that everything has clicked back into place.
HELL YEAH. Stevie Smith is back.

I think it is fair to say that Loic Bruni’s crash in the final section of track – an easy section relative to everything he had just ridden oh-so flawlessly – was crushing for every single person in the arena. Even Aaron Gwin, who profited to become the first World Cup winner for a direct-sales-only bike company, was heard saying it should have been Bruni’s. But, as he well knows himself, racing is racing and if you let down your guard your day can be done in a flash.

Brosnan on his way to fourth.
Aaron Gwin. Unbelievable. The pressure was immense for the American – after such big ‘speak of the monster’ deal signed with new sponsor YT over winter, this was really the time to make a statement. And of course he did. Impeccable when it counted, Gwin put in a demolishing run at pace that only Loic Bruni could match.

Perhaps the most upbeat person in the paddocks after finals was Bruni himself – obviously gutted but smiling and happy for his fellow Frenchman and equally egoless youngster Amaury Pierron, who made it onto his first World Cup podium in fifth with a superb display of bike riding. One of the new generation among what was otherwise a well-seasoned top five.

The (final) top three and the waiting game.

Troy Brosnan got his season off to a flying start in what are realistically polar-opposite conditions to his off-season training at home in South Australia. Fourth place and he will be looking to gain momentum as we move back across the globe to Australia for round two.

Two tenths then separated third and second placed riders Danny Hart and Steve Smith. Both fan favourites and both having perhaps struggled to get to this pace in 2015 (especially with Smith’s injury woes). With the Redcar Rocket and the Chainsaw Massacre riding at top five speed it should be one hell of a season ahead.

WOW. The Lourdes crowd was like nothing I have witnessed. Fort William and Windham are wild, but tens of thousands of fans packed into the trees and roaring for their hero Bruni is a sight and sound that needs to be experienced to understand. It was an electrifying finals in Lourdes.

Everyone knows Gwin can dominate, he’s done it for two different manufacturers now. But the big question of whether a change in sponsor from long-established bicycle manufacturer to young upstart could translate directly to ‘Gwin pace’ was up in the air.

The people’s champion in Lourdes, Loic Bruni was more than gracious in defeat. Not a sign of frustration at his crash while en-route to a first, and monumental World Cup win. Specialized’s new frontman stayed around the finish to chat to young fans, thank those who had supported him and shake the hands of the day’s winners. Bruni had no reason to worry - the glint in his eye said it all. Look out world.
And breathe. Aaron Gwin was just about getting used to finishing second when Bruni went down. A let off? Maybe.

It took a while for him to get revving for his last sponsor after all. His first international on-board a YT and things became so very clear. Bruni’s page in the history books was rewritten as ‘Direct Sales Win Races’.

Total respect to Loic Bruni. Gentleman, ace racer and fan favourite.
Oh yeah, in the Mob. YT just changed the world… Sunday night would have been a sleepless one for the rest of the bike industry.

While the World Champion seemed unphased by his crash – he left the paddocks with a knowing grin on his face – I have a feeling the bike industry might just take a little while longer in soothing its pains. There’s a new kid on the block.

Men’s results here.

Gwin on his way to the top step.
There you have it, (L-R) Brosnan (4th), Smith (2nd), Gwin (1st), Hart (3rd) and Pierron (5th).
Rage on… Bruni v Gwin, Specialized v YT, dealers v direct sales. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
Man and/or machine. Aaron Gwin is going to be hard to stop this year. Make no mistake, he deserved the win here. The heart may have said Bruni, but the head said Gwin.
We thought that Smurfs were from Belgium.

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